Summary: it sounds so simple, so ordinary. What did you do today? What happened in class—I slept in? Tell me about your trip to France? If you ask a friend these questions, a summary ensues. The asker doesn’t want the whole story—just the most important, lively details enriched by their friend’s unique perspective.
A staple in the art of everyday life, summary is also a crucial tool within any academic discourse. Scholars are constantly summarizing the views of others as a way to educate their audience even as they subtly set the stage for their own argument. This assignment asks you to practice and strengthen your summary skills by writing a 4-page summary of, and response to, Sue-Im Lee’s article “‘We Are Not the World’: Global Village, Universalism, and Karen Tei Yamashita’s Tropic of Orange.”
From Summary to Response
Your essay should begin by making clear the author’s central argumentative claim before mapping out the most important steps of her argument. Work to bring the essay to life for your reader by accurately representing the argument; in order to do this, try to imagine a reader who has read neither Tropic of Orange nor the essay you are summarizing. Also, rather than simply mimic the often heavy theoretical jargon that Lee uses, try to give in a greater sense of clarity by defining key terms as you go. An excellent summary will do its best to condense and clarify even very complicated arguments.
A strong summary will be clearly written, lively, concise, and well-organized. Furthermore, your summary should reflect a complete and fair understanding of Lee’s essay, taking care not to unduly skew or misrepresent her argument. Your tone, at the start, should be objective: think of a perfectly clear window. As the summary progresses, however, try to make more strategic word choices in order to signal the tone of your coming response. Here, you might think of a slightly tinted window that colors the argument just so as you subtly convince your reader to see Lee’s essay from your perspective.
In the context of academic engagement with scholarly sources, one rarely summarizes with pure objectivity. Rather, one often summarizes only as a prelude to a more engaged or subjective response. In your summary, you should have already tinted that clear and objective window of summary just slightly using a word here or there that signals your point of view. The second part of this assignment asks you to respond to Lee’s argument. Here, your own voice will emerge more powerfully as you react explicitly to the arguments that Lee lays our in her article. This engaged capstone should emerge naturally from your summary that comprises the first part of this assignment.
Your engaged response, which should comprise about 25% of the paper (1 page of a 4-page summary), might agree or disagree with Lee’s central claim—or, better yet, it might do a little of both. Alternately, you might pay particular attention to the strength or weakness one of her supporting points, or you might take a more extrinsic approach and relate her ideas to a broader set of theoretical concepts, or to a particular cultural context. Finally, you should feel free to bring in a new example from the book that either supports or contradicts or complicates her main point. In this way, your summary could be viewed less as a “response” and more as an argumentative “extension” of one or more of her main points.
How to Proceed: Some Dos and Don’ts
Your first paragraph needs to very briefly set the stage for summary by introducing the author and the source. You will also need to articulate a thesis. Your “thesis” for this paper is simply a concise, 1-2 sentence re-statement of the author’s main point.
Your body paragraphs should each be dedicated to summarizing one of Lee’s key points, or a set of related points. Keep in mind that you cannot cover every detail in Lee’s article. You will have to make strategic choices about what to include and what to exclude, clustering similar ideas and recasting them in concise and unified paragraphs.
While you might choose to incorporate a few brief quotes in certain cases where Lee’s phrasing is particularly apt, or where you are responding directly to something she writes, I expect you to own the author’s argument by recasting it in your own terms and through your carefully considered organizational choices. That is, I do not want you to rely on quotation and paraphrase.
It is too easy for comprehensive attempts at summary to devolve into a mere “list” summary that proceeds blandly in series of phrases such as “then,” “also,” “next,” “after,” and “furthermore.” Do your best to avoid such words. The strongest summaries are not play-by-play reenactments; rather, they stand on their own in terms of organization and style. Again: you need to own this thing!
We will begin discussing Lee’s article together, developing outlines and organizational strategies for our summaries. Rough drafts of your Summary and Response essays will be due via Oaks at the time noted in the schedule. You will also bring two hard copies to class on the appointed day, as we will hold both a larger group and a peer-review workshop of your rough drafts.
I will fill out a grading rubric and offer additional marginal comments on your rough drafts, and we will meet individually to discuss any issues you might be having during out one-on-one conferences.